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We are the government? Run for your lives!

Live from Saipan By Zaldy Dandan

Saipan — Some say, “We are the government.” Usually, they also work for the government. But if you don’t, you may disagree, and may recall your unhappy experiences whenever you have to deal with the government: getting a driver’s license, paying taxes/fees, filing a complaint, obtaining government documents the government requires you to fill out, or jumping through fiery bureaucratic hoops to comply with bewildering and exasperating bureaucratic rules.

Be honest. You won’t do to yourself what your government wants you to do (or else).

“We are the government” is also a scary thought knowing what we are capable — and incapable — of. Knowing our personal weaknesses, our character defects, our self-preserving egos — and then allowing ourselves or people like us to be in charge of the rest of us?


But that’s what we do every election year. Worse, many of us elect politicians based on criteria that we would not consider when choosing a doctor or a mechanic.

I like the way s/he talks. S/he sounds smart. S/he listens. S/he is passionate. S/he is sincere. And we live in the same village and went to the same pre-school. Yes please. By all means. S/he can operate on my brain.


As journalist Jane Jacobs would put it, being human in itself is difficult. We perform it imperfectly. And when we — to paraphrase Karen Casey and Martha Vanceburg — combine our effort with others’ through government, we usually end up multiplying our imperfections.

Herbert Spencer asked in 1884: “If in [my] personal affairs, where all the conditions of the case were known to me, I have so often miscalculated, how much oftener shall I miscalculate in political affairs, where the conditions are too numerous, too widespread, too complex, too obscure to be understood?”

We usually find it hard to manage or deal with our own personal affairs: our careers, our family, our relationships. We make a lot of mistakes. Now and then we’re blindsided by unforeseen events and incidents in our personal lives. And yet we believe that, through the government, we can tell others how to live their lives well.

We are the government, and like us the government is prone to overpromising and overreaching.


We are the government, which is why the government should only do what it can and ought to do: ensure public safety/national security, secure and protect individual rights, the rule of law and free markets.

Like us, the government should not pretend to be an all-around expert. We as individuals are aware of the unfortunate — if not catastrophic — consequences of pretending to be who we’re not. Yet we allow a group of people like us to claim that, once elected into office, they can raise wages, lower prices, make our kids smarter, end poverty, end drug abuse, end littering/illegal dumping, end criminality, end pandemics, reverse global warming and mow our lawn.

What the hell is wrong with us?

Some say government is not the problem — “bad government is the problem.” That’s like saying “guns don’t kill people; bad guns kill people.”

The only “good” — and by “good” I mean “tolerable” — government is small government.

Nowadays, however, government is seldom small. Hence, it is often bad.

There will be fewer problems with government if it has fewer responsibilities. But most of us want it to do more not less. And so, to have better chances of winning our votes, most politicians seeking office will promise that every day will be Christmas if s/he wins. Most politicians run on a Santa Claus platform.

And once elected they’re expected to distribute the good stuff funded by other people’s money— jobs, special favors and the like.

Not surprisingly, campaign promises and political attacks almost always sound the same in each election year.


And no, government is not “the collective will of the people.” That only “works” in totalitarian nations where the people are supposed to wholeheartedly agree with their leader all the time.

In a democracy, government is a group of politicians in power — until voters kick the bums out and elect new ones.

Government believers, to be sure, like to quote James Madison who once said, “If Men were angels, no government would be necessary.” But Madison also noted that “if angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary.”

To quote another wise man, P.J. O’Rourke, “Feeling good about government is like looking on the bright side of any catastrophe. When you quit looking on the bright side, the catastrophe is still there.”

Zaldy Dandan is editor of the NMI’s oldest newspaper, Marianas Variety. His fourth book, “If He Isn’t Insane Then He Should Be: Stories & Poems from Saipan,” is available on

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